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Litigating the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, a VCPC Guest Speaker

Jon Mueller, Vice President of Litigation for CBF talked with VCPC students about the litigation surrounding the hotly contested Chesapeake Bay TMDL.

Jon Mueller (right) visits the Virginia Coastal Policy Center fall 2015. ©Sydney MaHan/VASG

Jon Mueller (right) visits the Virginia Coastal Policy Center fall 2015. ©Sydney MaHan/VASG

By Sydney MaHan, Student Correspondent

Environmental law can be tough, says Jon Mueller, Vice President of Litigation for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Mueller visited the Virginia Coastal Policy Center (VCPC) this fall to talk with students about the litigation surrounding the hotly contested Chesapeake Bay TMDL.

In the Chesapeake Bay, high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus can cause “dead zones.” The nutrients stimulate quickly-reproducing algae; this explosion of algae is called a bloom. When the algae die, decomposition eats up the available oxygen in the water, which in turn can suffocate aquatic life such as oysters, crabs, and fish.

“These algae blooms are so big you can almost see them from space,” says Mueller. The Chesapeake Bay total maximum daily load (TMDL) is intended to reduce the amount of nutrients entering the bay by setting a maximum allowable level of these pollutants in the water. When it comes to the bay, Mueller says, this “TMDL is very different because it involves six jurisdictions and interstate cooperation in order to get the bay back to where it needs to be.”

The large scale of the problem is just one of the challenges to litigation on this TMDL. When reflecting on Mueller’s presentation, VCPC student Thomas Sandbrink says, “One of the points that stood out for me was how he explained how rare environmental type cases are and as a result the tendency of judges to be less familiar with the law.”

An extension partner of Virginia Sea Grant, VCPC at William & Mary Law School provides policy and legal analysis to its partners on coastal resource and community issues in its mission to educate and train the future lawyers and leaders of tomorrow.